On Being Unkind, Remorselfully

I generally pride myself on how little actual friendship drama I have in my life. I am kind; my friends are kind; we don’t go out of our way to hurt each other and the ebb and flow of our friendships are minimal – it’s more placid and consistent than anything else.

I did something bad this week. I had been texting with a friend about a dude I was seeing, and in trying to boost my friend’s ego, I said something (untrue) and unkind about the dude. Of course, he found out about it. I, being the stubborn panicker that I am, dug my heels in and stood my ground. He was so incredibly hurt.

This is where the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” comes in. I was trying to boost one friend’s ego and in doing that, i unintentionally crushed the ego of someone else. It was cruel. It was unnecessary. It created for me a storm that I did not see coming, and one which has changed the course of an otherwise beautiful relationship quite irreparably.

For me, it’s hard to have hurt someone so deeply with a single sentence (and another action, but that’s not for this space), because I know how deeply I’ve been affected by a single off-handed comment. I never intended for him to see it, and I imagined that I could somehow boost one friend’s ego without ever damaging the other, because for me, it wasn’t a “real” thing. It existed on another plane. It was an offhanded comment not meant for the world, but the fact remains, I should never have said it.

I think that everyone, no matter what facade we present to the world, is delicate. That’s not to say that we’re not all incredibly strong and powerful, it’s just to say that we are all struggling with some uncertainty. Some of us hide it better than others, but at our core, outside input does have the power to affect us, shape us, crush us, or build us up.

Everyone has inherent value and beauty, some wear it differently than others. I’m not drawn to men because of chiseled cheekbones, although I’m not totally opposed, either. But I’m drawn to people for their spirits, their souls, their energy. It’s a blend. Granted, aesthetic appreciation of your partner is a foregone conclusion, but that’s never the foundation for a solid, lasting relationship. It’s the intellectual draw; the emotional closeness; the way that their eyes light up when they see you; the way you feel when you’re nestled into their shoulder nook. This dude is beautiful, both aesthetically and otherwise, and I was callous to suggest otherwise. God, his eyes.

I’ve lost that now because I didn’t think.

I was unkind and it was detrimental to something I’d been happily cultivating. It’s going to end now, and I will walk away with a few weeks of happy memories and a hard lesson, a firm reminder of why I’m not unkind in the first place and of how being flippant can have serious repercussions.

I suffered too much pain and humiliation at the hands of others during my childhood and adolescence – for everything from my ski-slope nose to my lack of boobs; for being too nerdy or weird; for telling bad jokes; for being awkward; for not having the right clothes…ugh, the list goes on – to ever do something like this, and I hate that I’ve done it. This public announcement is some semblance of penance, a public flagellation of my misdeeds so I can walk away feeling at least a little lighter, because who I was when I made that mistake is not the person that I want to be, and I can guarantee you that this is a solid reminder of what I stand for as a human being, a peer, and a potential partner.

No one deserves to be cut down for any reason. No one deserves anything but the utmost support and encouragement. Because after all, we’re all in this together. Suffering comes from places of insecurity, and my own insecurity and nervousness about our relationship caused me to act in ways that were more than unbecoming.

And here I am, creating suffering, feeling the brunt of the equal reaction and now suffering myself, and all for what? Something so insignificant. I am better than this, and I know it. I was just beaming about radiating light into the world, and yet I let myself and the world down by doing the exact opposite.

Of course, you can’t take anything you do back, but for this, I wish I could. It’s like my mom says, “It’s not a mistake unless you keep making it,” and this is one that will be a lesson, rather than a mistake, because I’ve reflected, attempted to address the issue, and begged for forgiveness, which is not mine to give. I have done what I can do, and I will go forward with the full clarity of hindsight and the forwardness of positivity. There is only that and if we cannot be the things we wish to see in the world, we are nothing.

On Writing About Breaking Up and the Aftermath, Emotionally (Because I Can)

I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I kept myself busy this weekend, trying to keep the mantra of “positive and productive” alive in my head to drown out the emotional white noise. I danced all night on Friday, went out to dinner with my brother and his girlfriend on Saturday, ran errands and took the dog to the dog park on Sunday. (I got to have the dog last weekend. It was lovely.)

Monday came, and then Tuesday, and with them, a surprising sense of lightness and joy. The days were great; the nights not so much. I’d not slept alone in a year and a half, and man, there’s some serious truth to the biorhythm thing. The nights are the worst. They stretch on forever.

Last night, it all caught up with me. I knew it was going to, but I’d been almost reveling in how calm I was, and I hadn’t prepared myself (not that I could have, really). The tears came, randomly, and then they wouldn’t stop.

I’m not going to fight this, I’d already decided that when the sadness engulfed me, I would let it happen. There isn’t anything but time that can fix these things. Even though I want nothing to more to keep muttering “be positive and productive” and channel everything into the future, I know that the pain of losing your other half is immense. And you have to let it happen or you end up bitter. I don’t want that. I have bitten off two of my nails, though, so the stress is starting to get to me.

I haven’t been good at eating or sleeping. I need those things, but right now, my body doesn’t want them. Tonight, I was going to scrub the house with wild abandon, and I’ve been unable to do much of anything. I did start some laundry, so there’s that.

Am I trying really hard to keep it “positive and productive”? Yes. Am I hurting? Yes. Is this for the best? Yes. Will it get better? It has to.

I know that I’m grieving, because the loss of any relationship is painful. I’m not pining for him or wishing he’d come home. But at the same time, I miss him. His nearness. Part of me keeps feeling that he’s just in the next room. The proximity sensors are so out of whack.

It’s just overwhelming for a million different reasons. The darkest part of me hopes he’s feeling as badly as I am. It’s just emotional pain on a totally different depth than I’m used to, and I’m not pleased that I’m feeling it. I don’t want to push it down because that will only create long-lasting and crippling complications, but I’m really sick of feeling it and it’s only been a week. I persuaded my therapist to ballpark a healing date and he said five weeks. He was very nervous about that, so don’t hold him to it, but when I asked him how long it takes normal people to get over a relationship and he said “several months to several years,” I think the look on my face forced him to reconsider. It was the “Oh, hell no!” look.

A friend said on Friday, “It’s just like skydiving. You’re ready to jump on 3 and they push you on 2.” That makes so much sense. So does the friend who told me that she had a boyfriend for five years whom she loved very much. The hardest part of their breakup was the realization that they would each become better people if they weren’t together. I think that’s going to be a piece of advice I cling to. I think we both stopped reaching and I think that being apart will allow us to grow as people.

When you think about it – or if you’d known us both – we are incredibly different people with different values systems. In the long run, there was no way we’d have been able to sustain a happy, successful relationship.  Just wasn’t going to happen.

Blerg blerg blerg. I get it. No one cares. Emotional pain is so self-contained. It’s this funny quality of the human condition, because when you’re experiencing a really strong emotion, all you want to do is share it, communicate it, get it out there, commiserate, be congratulated, be supported, be held, and so on. And yet, both extremes of happiness and despair are frowned upon. Because why should anyone be so happy? That’s some bullshit. And the sadness is not immediate to anyone who’s not forced upon it, so why dwell? No one wants to hear about it, because even though everyone’s been there, they’ve lost the ability to relate on that exact level. If they’re doing the support and commiseration or support and elation thing, it’s because they care, not because they feel it. They do get it, but they don’t get it, if you know what i’m saying. (You don’t. Think about that scene from “10 Things I Hate About You” when Bianca is trying to explain the layers of love, and she’s like, “I love my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.” It’s like that. Never mind.)

It’s much like my mother’s motto for our teenage years: this too shall pass. And with it, so will the emotional reverberations. But for now, they’re bouncing around in my heart and the visceral reactions are alternating between frustration, triumph, anguish, and calm. It’s a hot mess happening in here. I’m okay with it. It’s good because it will lead to growth. But god, growth pains are the worst.

On Fear and the Bad Thing, Unabashedly and Forwardly

Trigger Warning, Yo. Things here are things that you shouldn’t look at if you’re at risk for being triggered by sexual assaults and such. Sorry in advance, shit’s about to get heavy.

It’s been ages. I’ve been avoiding blogging. Sorry.

It’s a long story, but my life took a complete detour. I know that’s how it always goes, the best laid plans always end up in complete and utter disarray, but this turn was long and winding in ways that I had never expected. I’m back on track now, thankfully. It’s been rough, to say the least, but I’m finally back where I need to be. I think.

I have been avoiding blogging. I haven’t had anything to say. I hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but I so badly want to want to blog again, and I have a feeling that saying this will help with that. It’s been bottled up forever, and if there’s one thing they can’t take from me, it’s the one thing I love more than anything: writing.

In short (not short) – I spent nearly six months being unemployed. It was necessary. It was a godsend, actually, because in the course of filing for unemployment, I got the opportunity to find closure for something that had haunted me for a long time. It was expensive, for me, but I get to sleep through the night now with the satisfaction that had escaped me for an entire year.

Here’s the short (of course, not so short) story: I was drugged and assaulted by a co-worker while I was a tradeshow in New York in January of 2013. I blacked out fifteen minutes into having a drink with a man I detested, but with whom I wanted to have a good working relationship. I woke up naked in a hotel room. There was a beer bottle on the tv stand. I hadn’t been drinking beer that night. I had missed meetings. I was sick, confused, dizzy. I had to GPS my way back to the hotel where the conference was after doing some printing for work. It was two blocks. There’s more, but you don’t need it.

My assailant met me outside the bathroom of the tradeshow floor – where I had been throwing up – and asked me what I remembered about the night before. I told him nothing, and asked him what had happened. He told me that we had “just had some fun,” and then apologized profusely. I was sick. I was in trouble. My bosses were so angry with me. I was in shock. I was so afraid of losing my job that I never went to the hospital. I was terrified. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I was okay. (I hate the band FUN. and anything that explicitly says, “Fun” on it because nothing is fun, not after that.)

I got back to Denver and spent an entire Saturday crying. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried for 6 straight hours, but it’s fucking terrible. I knew it was bad when my brother came to the door of my room and told me he loved me. He never does that. That’s when you know things are bad.  That Sunday was the Super Bowl. That was rough, too.

When we got back to Denver, back to work, they wrote me up for missing the meetings. They told me that they were leaving everything else out to protect me. They asked me if I thought I had been drugged. I told them that yes, I thought I had. They assured me that this was just a matter of procedure (the write up, not the drugging). I went along with it. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to do. I went back to work.

I tried to put the whole thing behind me. I couldn’t. I had a full-on emotional breakdown in April 2013, after reading a blog post by an economist who theorized that sexual assault while the victim is unconscious does no lasting damage. There’s a post there, from that moment, that I’ll never forget as long as I live. That day was my grandmother’s birthday party. I tried to smile.

After that point, I missed an entire week of work. My employer, realizing that this was actually a real thing, hired an investigator and conducted an internal investigation, but the findings that came back in June were “inconclusive” and I was told that while I wasn’t being fired, I was free to leave. The assailant? He kept his job. I left in July. I wish I could explain to you how great I felt the day that I quit. I felt like a god, for a few minutes, swelling with a happiness I hadn’t felt in months. I gave them three weeks’ notice, because my boss had told me to give as much notice as possible. The actual separation was much worse. The day I left, I wrote a post. The vice president of the company accidentally copied me on an email he was sending to my boss with a link to my blog and the subject line: There you go.

I stopped writing because I couldn’t write about, much less think about or talk about, anything else. I was at a point where I could hardly get out of bed. It was horrible. I felt like dying. I’ve never been so down in my entire life. I am so thankful for my friends – they listened to me for hours; they listened to me say the same things over and over and over; without them, I wouldn’t be here. I lost a few, too, because the things I was fixated on were too much. I get that. I hate that. I’m sorry. Grief has those ways of expression – mine was verbalizing it. Word vomit, everywhere, all the time. Oh, you have a job? Here’s my story….Blahhhhhh. I can’t describe how horrible it is to know that you’re being weird and not be able to stop.

I went back to work at the Dairy Queen I’d worked for since I was sixteen. I spent a year there. I managed. I was actually a really good manager. I’m good at customers, at people, at keeping things running smoothly. I went to work in the office, which I loved. I began to do more. I left there due to a whole slough of circumstances – mostly my foot surgery. My boss told me he wouldn’t contest my unemployment, since we had a good relationship and I’d worked there for a decade and the separation wasn’t bad. I filed for unemployment, having no idea what I was going to do.

When you file for unemployment, they take the wages not from the current quarter, or even the quarter before that, it’s the four quarters before that. (Think 18 months, minus the last six or so.) It was my birthday. It was a Sunday. I was filing for unemployment, frustrated and sad, and when the state asked me what the reason for the separation from my former employer (not my most recent one), I was honest. I wrote, “I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. After the investigation came back inconclusive, I quit.” Turns out, this is a legitimate reason to quit. I could have filed for unemployment benefits the minute I quit last year. I could have saved a year of my life spent blending ice cream and chunks of fattening cookies products and cleaning fruit gobs off of things and wearing gross polo shirts. Not that it was all bad. It wasn’t.

A state adjudicator called. We talked for twenty minutes. He was so understanding. He was amazing – I swear, if it was okay to send a thank-you note to a state agency, I would. I’d send flowers and fruit arrangements and my eternal gratitude. I told him what had happened, and he was professional and factual and expressed his condolences to me. I was professional, too, in a calm way I had not thought I could be. I was objective, or at least as objective as I could have been as I discussed the events that led to my separation. (Objectively subjective, if that’s a thing.) It wasn’t emotional. It was what I said it was. It was this date, and that date, and this happened next, and then this.

The decision came back. I won. I had been awarded unemployment benefits because the separation was not my fault. I cried hot tears of happiness. I felt as though pieces of my soul had been put back (wherever pieces of your soul go – your heart? I always imagine pieces of my brain going into place like a puzzle, which I feel like can’t be right, but it’s like that). Winning felt like justice. A third party – objective, with no vested interest in the findings, had looked at the evidence and ruled in my favor. He’s going to do another hundred of those that week. I was a social security number and a task to be checked off. He was my knight in shining armor, even if he didn’t know it. Guy, wherever you are, you are doing a great job. Keep doing that.

My employer appealed. We went to a hearing. I hired a lawyer, realizing that this was the only chance I was going to have for any sort of justice. She was great. I’m so glad I found her. I could have done it without her, actually, but having her there gave me resolve. I so badly wanted to get a favorable decision. I went into the hearing knowing that I was going to give it everything I had. Everything. I prepped for weeks. My mom came with me, emotional support. We sat in the room. My employer appeared by phone. I’m so glad – I only cried twice during the hearing, once when I talked about tendering my resignation and once when it was all over; it was overwhelming and I was full of the need to cry. I don’t know if I could have been as strong as I was – and I was; I was full on fucking lion-Katie – if they’d been there in person. I would have been a tearful puddle of sadness. I wouldn’t have been able to summon the heartbreak and rage that I needed to put on my big girl pants and handle the situation. Handle it. I handled that shit so hard. Seriously.

The hearing lasted two and a half hours, where most unemployment hearings are less than a half an hour. I got to tell the entire story, from beginning to end. I got to provide documentation. The hearing officer was fantastic. She was very adept, assertive in a very intellectual way, very quick to ask questions. I believe that she became angry when she asked my employer for a copy of the original HR investigation report. They refused to provide it, even though they referenced it throughout the hearing. I wonder, to this day, what was in that report. I wonder why they hired a second attorney to review it (something I learned the day of the hearing). I wonder why they were so adamant about not providing it, since their HR rep tried to tell the hearing officer that it was just a collection of notes, even though she’d ripped my therapist a new one about it, asking him if he’d ever seen it and why he thought he could testify about it/me. Ha. He responded that he was only testifying about me, my symptoms, and his experience of my therapy and trauma timeline. I would pay good money to see what that report said, since the day I was interviewed by the HR investigator, she told me that it wasn’t that hard to fire a contractor. She also tsked at times when I talked about how things were handled between myself and the bosses for reporting of the whole thing. She even gave me a book about feminist legal theory, since she discovered I was into that sort of thing. I’m way into that sort of thing, although since it all happened, my exposure to feminist everything has been limited to avoid triggering me. Stupid. I hate that. Take the one thing I love, why don’t you? I’ll get there. I’ll be able to read reports about sexual assault and rape without freaking out. It’ll happen.

Because of the hearing, I got to see the write up that was issued to my assailant the day they told me about the decision, in June. It said that no matter how noble his intentions….finding himself in a hotel room with a co-worker was unprofessional and not to happen again. I laughed, actually, at that. I should frame it, so I can remember how not to act as an adult, how not to reprimand, how not to manage, how not to resolve a situation. It’s disgusting. It’s fucking upsetting. It’s ridiculous. Six months later? That’s the best stern reprimand you’ve got? He’s costing you thousands of dollars in investigation costs. He’s costing you time and whatever else. He wasn’t written up for not calling the HR lady back the day he was informed of the investigation in May – he called my office and cell phones repeatedly that day, never leaving a voice message. Over and over the phone rang. I shook the whole time. My employer didn’t tell him to stop until the next day, when I had to email them a second time to tell them that the repeated harassment was upsetting to me. I was afraid to answer my phone for ages.

I left the department of labor and employment the day of the hearing feeling fantastic. I felt good. My support system was there. My lawyer told me that barring some strange legal technicality, she had no idea how I couldn’t win. I had told my truth, from beginning to end. I had responded semi-nastily, in the most professional of ways, to the ridiculous inquiries and assertions of emotional instability from my former employer and their representative. I got to hear the hearing officer ask them, using the words “ham-handed,” that if I had been hit by a bus, would they have written me up?

My former lady boss was amazing. I feel for her – I want to send her flowers, for testifying honestly. I hope that she didn’t get into any trouble. I always respected her and valued our relationship. It wasn’t the same after she asked me if it was because I got in trouble the day I had my breakdown. I know that she’d worked for them forever, and I hope that as a result of her testimony, she wasn’t in trouble. I love her. I sometimes think about her, and I hope that she’s doing okay. Seriously. Fruit baskets. Whatever she wants.

My boss boss’s testimony was different. He became agitated. The hearing officer asked him to clarify something he’d testified to three minutes prior, the issue of whether he’d known at the time of the write-up that something had happened, and he became angry and sarcastic. It was a yes or no question. He responded, “Sure.” That was the best response, I think. Instead of a yes or a no, it was a nasty “sure.” I watched the hearing officer’s face when he said that. She was intently scribbling notes. Intently. Very intently. I was hot with the prospect of his response – the annoyance he showed buoyed my claim, or so I felt. He brought some stuff up. I got to rebut it. He asserted that I was emotionally unstable. I got to rebut that. Being ADHD and having anxiety don’t make me unstable – they questioned the fact that I had a therapist, which is funny because the only reason I have him is because during my first annual review, they told me that I had to work on my focus issues. Hence, the ADHD evaluation and subsequent treatment. And my amazing random therapist who has been my rock for way too long.

I hate that everything went so badly. I hate that the people to whom I’d given so much came to hate me, and that our working relationship soured. But at the same time, I find that the people I detest the most are the people who masquerade as good people when they’re really not.

I don’t hate how it turned out. I walked out of that building and it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. People say that, but think about the last time you felt that way. It’s freeing. It’s like you’ve got light again. Light meaning less weight and also light the opposite of dark. The curtain of darkness was lifting, or at least shifting. I lived for a few moments. I put my professional face on that day. I got to change out of sweatpants and put on the business dress that I’d been assaulted in – I wore it for courage, an homage to the hope of my former self.

The decision came via mail. I tore it open like it was a Christmas present. I read it, hardly daring to believe it. I screamed. I cried. I screamed and cried, tears of fucking joy. Tears of healing. Tears of pain. Tears of victory. It was just unemployment benefits. But it wasn’t. It was so much more than that. It was the soothing tears of healing, of justice, of a battle well-fought. I jumped on the bed a little bit. That’s how great it was. I cried some more. I felt the cracks somewhere in the brain puzzle that is my soul personified congeal in the best way, immediate healing. I won. I fucking won. I fought the good fight and I won. I am crying as I type this. I was brave. I was strong. I was everything that I hadn’t felt for so long. The world, which had been so cruel, rewarded me and my honesty and courage.

I collected unemployment benefits for a long time. I found a job, finally. Do you know how hard it is to have to take the honesty route when you’re applying for jobs? When the interviewer asks you, “Why do you have this gap on your resume? Why did you go from being “….” to Dairy Queen?” and you have no choice but to answer honestly? It’s miserable. You’re not only going through the strange hell that is interviewing, but you’re also reliving the worst months of your life while wearing a professional mask. Don’t cry, this is a dry-clean only dress. Ha, good advice.

This year, in September, I got a twitter notification that the vice president of my former company was following me. My stomach dropped into my ass. I checked immediately – he must have been visiting my twitter account and accidentally clicked “follow” and then immediately unfollowed me. I haven’t blogged for so long because I have been afraid. During the end of my employment there and the time that has followed, he has been watching me.

True, I used to be a fun, party child. I used to go out. I used to have friends and social engagements. I used to do things. I don’t have or do those things anymore, and part of me wonders how much of it is the shame I feel when I go out, when I have fun, as though I don’t deserve it. I am afraid. Afraid of deserving what happened to me. Afraid of being judged for being fun after what happened. Afraid that it could happen again. Just afraid. I hate that I’m being watched. Followed, per internet terminology. It’s not enough for a restraining order or anything, but it’s honestly fucking creepy. He’s a forty-plus year old man with nothing better to do than internet stalk his former employee? ….I’m not the only who’d be creeped out by that kind of shit. He’s smart enough not to check my blog from work because he knows I know the IP address.

I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe it’s this. Maybe there’s some sick satisfaction that they get from knowing that my life has been complete and utter shit for the past two years; that I’m not the person that I used to be; that I’ve lost so much; that I’ve been depressed and angry; that I’ve lost most of my friends; that I’ve struggled to get back on track; that my self-esteem has plummeted; that my enjoyment of all things is now minimal. If that’s the case, I hope they’re happy. In that way, you won. In those various ways, I’m not okay, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be. You win, all of you. Go back to your program updates and get the fuck out of my life.

There are things that happen to you that will affect you from the moment that they happen until the time you die and this is one of them. I’m serious. I don’t see fun anymore – I don’t desire it. I desire a night where sleep comes easily. I desire safety. I desire comfort.

When I finally got the courage to tell my now-boyfriend about what had happened, I was at work at the DQ. He was visiting with a friend. The friend knew. Somehow, like always, it spills out. It’s word vomit. Once it starts, I can’t stop it, the narrative pouring from somewhere deep inside me, my heart and stomach simultaneously contracting in a nervous rhythm, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, why did you do that? Fuck, why? Ugh, you’re terrible. When I told him, the first thing he said to me was, “Get his address; I’ll kill him.” My boyfriend is recon. He was a sniper in the Marines. He could. I know the dude’s address by heart. It’s engraved. Obviously, boyfriend was joking – not joking, but attempting to offer reassurance in a way that can never be achieved. He wouldn’t. He’s a good man. Killing is not the answer to anything. We all know that. But it felt good. To be cared about like that. To have such an immediate response. I know that sounds insane, but that sort of reaction helped to provide a bit of healing that day. He’s had to deal with it so much since – me crying all the time, me freaking out, me angry, me depressed. This Thanksgiving, we were in California with his family and I finally told him mom about it all, and he told me that it’s been so hard to love me through all the depression. I am so grateful to have someone who still loves me, through all of it. I know it’s not great. I know it’s not fun. But it is what it is. This is my reality. It doesn’t go away. Sometimes it comes back. He’s the one who has to listen to me sobbing, who has to hold me against his shoulders when it’s too much. He’s the one who has to deal with a lot of the fallout from something he never could have seen coming.

Blergh. There’s all of it. Here’s why I haven’t been blogging in a year. I so love my blog. I have loved writing since I was a child; I have loved blogging since LiveJournal; I have loved being able to express myself. I will begin again. No one can take that from me. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m sorry for word vomiting it all into this space, but I’m glad it’s out. Now I can go on about the rest of my life without this hanging over my head. It’s nice. I was talking with a former professor about everything this summer, and she encouraged me to write about it, in the hopes that it would help me heal. I’m finally writing about it.

🙂

Here’s to it being over. Here’s to fresh starts. Here’s to constant turn of the wheel of time – like it or not, we’re moving forward. But really, I am moving forward. My life is my own. They don’t own it. They can’t control what I do. I am me. I am my own navigator. I will not give up the things I love.

On Feminism, Needily

I’m a feminist. I have been since before I understood what feminism was, and I’m grateful for that. I grew up thinking that I could do anything that I wanted to, without any concern for gender. I hung out with the boys until fourth grade, was never consumed by beauty or girlie things, but absolutely loved my Barbie dolls and everything else girl. It wasn’t an issue. My parents never pushed a gender identity, and I never felt the need to have one. I still consider myself somewhat of a tomboy, although I recently learned how to fill in my eyebrows with powder to make them look more fantastic. I appreciate that knowledge immensely.

I got to college, full of wonder and amazement at the mountains of theory that could be produced by academia, and found my calling. Sociology, women’s studies, and everything that goes along with it fascinated me. I thrived in those classes – to me, it’s like common sense, but more in-depth. More focused. More history, reflection, examination.

One thing that always struck me was Judith Butler’s description of heterosexuality as a performance of drag, meaning that in order to participate in society as a heterosexual man or woman, you’d have to put on the right clothes, and do your makeup a certain way, and act in a way that was socially acceptable.

It all started to click. When I was in high school, I’d given up my nerd persona to try to fit in as a teenage girl. Of course, that meant denying my identity as a “know it all” in pursuit of acceptance. In time, of course, I found that trying on different identities had led me to the truth – that I am who I am, regardless of my outward appearance. I came into my own and found that it was entirely freeing and wonderful.

But let’s get back to feminism. To me, feminism can be summed up in one word: equality. It’s not about being better than anyone, or denying anyone. It’s about being respected and treated as equals.

Here we are, in the twenty-first century. We’re officially post-postmodern, but we’re at a crossroads. Women have gotten the right to vote, and we’ve proved ourselves to be a force to be reckoned with at the polls. We’ve attained degrees, and sought higher education. We’ve entered the workforce and become politicians. We are no longer relegated to the role of teachers or secretaries, not that those roles aren’t absolutely necessary. We’ve been given choices. Motherhood isn’t an absolute identity.

And yet, we’re not there. There isn’t true, sweeping equality. We haven’t broken all of the glass ceilings. The pushback has been intense. Men’s emasculation at the hands of feminists have caused many a sleepless night for those concerned with that sort of thing, those people who believe that it’s a serious fear, that somehow women are determined to undermine our societal stability. (What societal stability?)

Recently, I was made aware of a blog that is focused on submissions from people who believe that they don’t need feminism. It’s called “Women Against Feminism.” It hurts me to read.

We’ve got women being raped and gang raped in India without any assistance from the police. We’ve got ISIS ordering Iraqi women to undergo female genital mutilation, and then backtracking to deny those claims. We’ve got women being kidnapped in Africa for wanting to get an education. It goes on and on. Our world is a broken place, one where being a woman is often a very dangerous thing to be.

You think you don’t need feminism?

The posts are laughable. They claim that they don’t need feminism because they don’t want to be a victim, or because they want to be a stay-at-home mom, or because they want respect and equality.

That’s feminism!

Feminism is about respect. It’s about equality. Feminism has nothing to do with “angry vaginas” or victimization or the furthering of political agendas. (Well….feminists do believe that women should be able to advocate for themselves, so I guess that in itself is a political agenda. I’m guilty of wanting to make my own decisions about my body! One poster says that her daughter is a privilege and not a choice. I’m confused about how feminism had a hand in that. I’m curious how the struggle for equality and respect became the choice to procreate or not — even natural family planning attempts to in some ways influence procreation, and regardless, that’s not about feminism. That’s about birth control. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-choice. I would never have an abortion. See what I did there? I made a choice about my own body….I didn’t make a choice that affected anyone else’s body. That’s feminism.)

One of the posts denies that patriarchy exists; another claims that she can’t think of an instance where feminism hasn’t caused more destruction and violence (I’d love to see her sources). Yet another claims that she doesn’t need feminism because her son shouldn’t be made to feel like less of a person because of his gender. That one got to me. Where does it say that feminism is about making a person feel like less of a person? Aren’t we fighting for the exact opposite thing?

I have a boyfriend. I’ve had him for a while now. Six weeks after we met, I dumped him because he was being a misogynist. He was ridiculous. He made comments that offended me. He said things that outraged me. He made me feel disrespected, devalued, and incompetent. We later had a long talk about what it means to feel respected and valued.

I know that he will always be a “man’s man,” embodying a very traditional type of masculinity. He knows that I’ll always be a feminist. We’re an odd pair, but we’ve learned from each other. We’ve learned to live with each other. He’s learned that I’m a valuable partner and that my intelligence is an asset. He’s become more understanding. He’s become more open. He’s grown emotionally. I’ve done the same. I’ve learned where he’s coming from. We’ve had endless amounts of debates about things, particularly women’s roles in the world. I expect us to contribute equally to everything, be it financial or domestic. Since he’s working right now and I’m not, I’ve taken on more domestic tasks. It’s a give and take.

One thing that I take from my discussions with him is that the physical differences between men and women are tangible. He’s stronger than me. (He was a Marine. It was really no contest.) I’m smarter than him, at least on paper. We both enjoy learning. He’s wittier than me – dry humor. I’m better at expressing emotions. He’s horrible at it. He’s better at math and cooking. I’m better at socializing, communication, and administrative tasks. I pay the bills. He pays me.

Feminism is not about one gender being better than the other. (This is based on the heteronormative assumption that there are only two genders….it’s not a discussion I want to have here, I have points to make.) Feminism is about acceptance and equality. I’m not trying to feminize men. I’m not trying to make all men seem like rapists, and all women victims.

The reason boyfriend and I work is because we complement each other. My weaknesses are his strengths, and vice versa. We’ve been able to work together to begin to achieve our goals. We’ve been able to laugh about our differences, talk about our differences, and grow as people because of them.

We need feminism.

I write about my relationship with my boyfriend because I feel that it’s important to discuss – feminists are often portrayed as lesbians (oh god, not lesbians!), or militants (what does that even mean in this context?), or violent, abusive, women-hating people, man-haters, or some combination of those adjectives. Feel free to insert your own.

Feminists aren’t those things. We’re people. We’re human beings. We exist with or without a partner. Some of us are men. My identity is not just his girlfriend. My identity is my own. I am a human being. I seek the same things that other people seek: happiness, love, acceptance, friendship, shelter, food, accomplishments, glory, and so on. (Glory, because who doesn’t want that?)

Another poster writes that she doesn’t need feminism because she likes men like Christian Grey, the super dominant billionaire sex god from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. Okay. That’s fine. As a feminist, I would also love a super dominant billionaire sex god. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist and still get one. (Super dominant billionaire sex gods, please feel free to apply.)

I bring up my boyfriend because I think that feminism and anything can co-exist. Maybe not. Feminism and racism aren’t a great pair, nor are feminism and fear-mongering, nor feminism and slut-shaming, which is often cited as being something in which feminists engage. I disagree. I’m pro-women. I’m pro-people. I’m pro-human. I’m pro-good-people-doing-well-for-themselves-and-others.

He’s way stronger than me. I was joking with his grandparents on Facebook today (after posting an article talking about the Women Against Feminism and their repeated insisting that feminism is moot because we need men to open jars) that every time I threaten to strangle my boyfriend, he responds that I don’t have the upper body strength. It’s true. I probably don’t.

But that’s not important. What I bring into our relationship is. To me, it’s like this: everybody has certain abilities, certain areas in which they excel. Lately, we’ve been seeing a rise in women in the workforce and stay-at-home dads. This has caused plenty of concern for plenty of people. But here’s how it is for me: I believe that everyone is suited to some things. For instance, my brother, who’s super manly, is way better at organizing than I will ever be. He’s in charge of organizing. I’m in charge of scrubbing. It works out.

Every relationship is based on give and take. Boyfriend is good at some things, I’m good at some things. Together, we’re great at a lot of things. Every single relationship is based on complementary attributes. So what if someone is great at childcare and the other is  whiz at engineering? Are those tasks only to be completed by someone of one gender or another? No. Everyone has an energy, whether it’s more masculine or feminine doesn’t matter.

I can’t be trusted in the kitchen. (Look at my foot scars and my lifetime knife ban…) Boyfriend is fantastic. You should try his pork tenderloin some time. Does that mean I do a lot of dishes? Yes. Because he cooks. Do I do a lot of sweeping? Yes, because he gets all the stuff in the right place before the sweeping.

These internet people (yes, internet people, take it with a grain of salt) claim that they want to be stay-at-home moms without being harassed. They should be allowed to do that. Anyone who’s harassing them is not a feminist. They say that they’re not afraid of men. Feminists aren’t afraid of men. I was assaulted by one, but I’m not afraid of them.

What I’m trying to say is that you do need feminism.

These women who are against feminism are allowed to do the things that they do because of the courageous women who fought so hard for basic human rights. They are allowed to vote because women stood up for that right. They are allowed to walk in the streets alone, which isn’t allowed in some places, places that could use some feminism! They are allowed to be stay-at-home moms or nuclear physicists or teachers or doctors or lawyers because of the perseverance of the women who came before them. That is not something to deny. That is not something that should be shunned. Their choices are their own because of the people who spent their lives fighting for that freedom.

Our world is not a world without women. The world needs mothers and lawyers and teachers and thinkers — men cannot shoulder that burden alone. The world needs people who think and create and nurture and care. Women are half of our future — we need to make it so that their voices are heard.

Denying feminism is at best ignorant and at worst setting us back as humans. The stigma that surrounds feminism is shameful, because women are active participants in our future as a global society. We are feminists because there is a need for understanding and equality. We are feminists because we work for freedom. We are feminists because we support education for all people. We are feminists because at the end of the day, a woman’s work is never done, nor is it valued enough.

I hate that there are women out there who decry feminism as an attack on men. I love men, but I don’t love men who don’t give me the respect that I deserve. I love to get dressed up and put on makeup (and now, fill in my eyebrows!) but it doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or less of a woman.

I am woman. I am so much more than that, though. I’m a human being.

On Two Years, Anniversarily

I remember what I was wearing when I walked into the Black Crown Lounge on Friday, July 13, 2012 – a sleeveless printed mini dress, black and tan. That’s not important.

When the bartender handed me the drink, our eyes met and I felt some sort of electricity run through me. I panicked and looked away. I don’t panic, usually. But then again, it’s not every day I run into someone who stirs that kind of curiosity. (His version of events is very different. He claims there was no shock of recognition, nothing except the standard physical appeal. He is wrong.)

I’m never very bold when it comes to this sort of thing, so I just let my friends do a little bit of information reconnaissance. I noticed that the bartender would pass by, taking out the trash or something. I ignored him. (I’m so smooth. So many skills.)

After a few near misses — the awareness of proximity not lost on either of us, even though he’ll never admit it — he approached me and asked me if I’d like to hang out some time. I giggled, and said yes. “Should I get your number, then?” he asked. Oh god, I’m the worst at being nervous. I gave him my number.

The next night, I picked him up and we went to the goth bar. Totally my scene, but not his at all. We went home and he made me a martini (I’d never had one), and we watched a documentary.

The rest is history. Five weeks later, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

We got bored there. I demanded a lake, so we drove to Lake Powell and camped on the beach. It was just us and the sand and the lake. And the family of Mormons who couldn’t be bothered to pack out their trash, but that’s not important. They left before sunset, and we had the place to ourselves again.

I fell in love with him that weekend and promptly dumped him after we got back to Denver. We never really stopped talking, though. Our relationship continued on, in some form or another. There were the bumps that came in the middle. There were several ultimatums that changed us, shaping our communication, and once, halting it altogether. When we began talking again last summer, he asked me to meet his parents. He took me to a barbecue. He made me dinners. We ran errands together.

One night, he made dinner. I got to his house, and he asked, “You like salmon, right?” I don’t eat cooked fish. I lied, I think. He saw right through it. I still ate it.

This time fell together slowly. There wasn’t any overt statement of expectations, although it was very clear that this was becoming a thing. I was going through a lot when all of this started, and he would hold me and let me cry into him. His quiet strength has always made me feel safe and protected in a way I can’t fully describe.

I remember the first time we held hands in the car. It was an errand somewhere last summer, and he grabbed my hand. I thought my heart was going to explode. I didn’t say anything. It was a declaration he’d never made out loud. I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

We celebrated our two-year anniversary last night. Two years since the night I met him. Two years of us, in some form or another. But mostly, it’s been about a year since we started this, the real thing. He’s not the romantic type, and we’re broke, so I wasn’t expecting much. But part of me hoped for something.

He offered to cook dinner last night. He made my favorite: pineapple curry. We got a bottle of wine we usually wouldn’t buy. I made my grandma’s chocolate cherry cake, garnished with a blend of frostings and some fresh strawberries. At one point, he ran off yelling something about “the sauce!” We made curry; there isn’t a sauce. I didn’t think anything of it and used the opportunity to turn up the stove to make sure that the chicken was fully cooked. (He told me he knew that’s exactly what I’d do.)

When he came back, he directed me to grab my wine and get in the car. I didn’t even have time to get shoes. He grabbed bowls, the curry, the rice, and the wine. He started driving. He pulled up at a quiet little park a few blocks from our house.

I got out and started towards the back  of the park. He’d set up a picnic blanket and put down a ton of electric tealight candles around the blanket. It was really magical. “I expect to see happy tears!” he directed. I laughed, through happy tears. He told me he tried to get all teal-colored lights but that wasn’t possible, and that the sauce errand had taken forever since he’d been pulling the tabs out of the tealights.

We ate curry, drank wine, and let the darkness settle around us. Then we laid on the blanket, surrounded by little tealights, and watched the bats fly above us. I was overwhelmed. I am thrilled that he did something so perfect. He put his hands on my face, told me how much he loves me, and kissed me, through more happy tears.

I never saw this coming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love our little family.

On the Dog, Celebratorily

Our baby isn’t a baby any more! On July 4, Acorn turned one.

Why is his birthday July 4th? Since we’ll never know his actual birthday, but we know it’s some time in July, we decided to make him an “America dog” (not my choice) and to give him a birthday we’ll easily remember. Last year, July 4th was the first day that boyfriend and I started hanging out again, too. We went to a barbecue in Boulder with some of his friends. So it all wraps up nicely.

Baby Acorn in Mississippi.

How did he become Acorn? Well – naming things just has to come. You can’t force it. So of course we panicked. Something so adorable also has to be aptly named. We thought. We thought some more. We suggested things — most of them Mississippi related. I threw out “Acorn” — pronounced “A-kern” — since I had found it hilarious that boyfriend’s grandpa had explained to me how much deer love “a-kerns” when we went hunting. I spent two days trying to figure out what an “a-kern” was before realizing they were acorns.

We laugh because when we went to get him that bright orange collar before we left Mississippi, I was filling out the tag so it could be engraved while we were telling the store proprietor that we hadn’t named him yet. The tag clearly says, Acorn. At one point, boyfriend’s grandpa said, “Don’t know why the hell they named him A-corn,” clearly enunciating the corn.

He was about 35 pounds when we rescued him. Since he was clearly abused or dumped or both, boyfriend always teases me about how Acorn used to have a “loving family.” Whenever I talk about how much I love the dog, he’ll say, “I bet he never did that with his loving family” or something about how much they miss him. I usually end up just rolling my eyes at him and then snapping, “He did not have a loving family! They didn’t take care of him and they don’t deserve him!” (It’s like my mom always said when my brother was picking on me, “The reaction is the reward.”) I remember when he was tiny and sweet, a timid puppy who needed love and encouragement. Now he’s all about chomping and fetching and wiggling. He still needs (and gets) a lot of love, but he’s so much more confident now.

20 hours of car ahead of him on his way to Colorado.

It’s funny what a full seven months of love can do to a dog. He went from being terrified of EVERYTHING (cars, stairs, linoleum, wood floors, dogs) to being an adventure dog. He still has to defer to Carlos, who’s the head of the animal coalition in our house, but they get along and tolerate each other. (Usually — Acorn recently discovered Carlos’s other stash of squeaky toys, which didn’t go over so well.)

One of my friends said last week that she truly believes that we gave Acorn (who also answers to Mr. Corn, General Cornwallis, and Hey!) the best home possible. She looked at him, lounging in the front lawn, not running away because he knows better, and told me that a lot of homes would have given him love but that we had given him the best. Since they’re not my words, I can totally use them to brag about how much he rocks.

As I type this, he’s whining under my feet. Ha. It’s not all roses over here in puppy parenthood. When I got home from two fully exhausting days at adoption camp a couple of weekends ago, he had been alone all day and was needy and whining and miserable. So was I. It made me wonder how people do the whole parenting thing. Especially teachers. Whiny kids for eight hours, oh wait, you’re working a double, but with different whiny kids for the next eight hours! Woo!

He’s a black lab something mix (collie?), so his furry sweater is really long and when it’s 90 degrees out, it’s too hot to walk him. He doesn’t understand why we can’t go play all the time, because it’s hard to explain to a dog why I don’t want to end up on the 6:00 news for being the kind of dog parent who lets their dog boil. Communication problems.

How he feels about camping.

And miles and miles of sticks. I love him. I can’t explain how much I love him. It’s the same way I feel about Carlos, that whenever I look at them, my heart somehow manages to both squeeze and overflow with love at the same time.

The sass is strong in this one.

I love watching boyfriend with him, too. I know from the moment boyfriend carried him into the house in Mississippi that he was ours, but boyfriend wasn’t so sure. I’ll never forget it when, after we’d given the dog his first bath, boyfriend held the dog’s little head in his hands, wiggled the dog’s ears, and asked him if he wanted to be best friends.

Even though there were moments when boyfriend wasn’t so sure we’d ended up with the best dog, a lot of love and some hard lessons (don’t eat sandwiches or bad things will happen, etc.) have made him into a pretty excellent companion. Watching boyfriend come home from work and play with the dog is my favorite thing. Watching the dog try to run after boyfriend when he leaves for work tugs at my heart. It’s all good. We got so lucky. I know he did, too, but really, it’s us who came out ahead here. We have a funny, floppy son who brings up so much joy and so many sticks. And tennis balls. And antlers. And rope toys.

On Love, Simply

Boyfriend isn’t the type of guy to talk much about anything, especially emotions. It drives me nuts, because I love to talk about everything, especially emotions.

I’ve been under some specific stress lately, and whenever I’m under this particular stress, I seem to have developed the habit of waking up between three and four in the morning and laying there with my mind churning, unable to fall back asleep until much later, if at all.

This morning was no exception, and I whiled away the hours of four, and then five, into six, with episodes of House on Netflix. He had to be at work early, so I crawled back into our bed. I wrapped my arms around him and promptly started crying.

You know how trying to cry quietly, pretending you’re not actually crying, trying to swallow those sobs only makes it worse? Yep. That.

He rolled onto his back, asked me what was wrong, which made me cry harder, and then reached for me, said, “Come here,” and pulled me into his shoulder. I didn’t realize how desperately I was holding on until I unclenched my fingers.

I sniffled to him how much I love him and that I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have him.

“You don’t ever have to worry about that,” he whispered.

Sometimes he just hits it out of the park with boyfriend awesomeness, which is magical when I need it so much.

On the French Toast Attempt, Painfully

I almost named my cat “Murphy” because in many ways, I am the living embodiment of Murphy’s law. If something is weird, it will most likely happen to me. I’m that guy.

That said, I’m also a huge proponent of a life without shoes (or socks or protective footwear whatsoever).

Since I never spent too much time in the kitchen until recently, my ability to attract danger (danger is clearly the wrong word here) and my lack of shoes never became much of an issue, other than the occasional stubbed toe or tripping over something.

Last Friday morning, I was attempting challah French toast. I had been to the store, procured the necessary ingredients (boyfriend told me that if I bought one more carton of eggs, he’d murder me, since I seem to keep buying eggs that no one will ever eat), and returned to begin my breakfast endeavor.

My mom bought us new knives for Christmas and they’re fantastic. (If you click on the link, you can see the orange bread knife…..) I was using the bread knife to slice my challah, and had moved on to preparing the liquid. I had honey in the microwave to soften, and when I went to open the door, I pushed the bread knife off the counter and onto the floor.

Except it didn’t hit the floor.

I felt it hit my foot and didn’t think anything of it, but my friend Shelby turned around and gasped. I looked down. Blood, blood. Everywhere, blood. I grabbed my foot. More of it. Calmly, I examined the wound. More blood. I grabbed some paper towel to put on it. That failed. “I think I need to go to the ER,” I said, as Shelby grabbed me a bath towel.

Boyfriend was downstairs, and he couldn’t hear my cries for help. (I thought he was ignoring me.) When Shelby went to get him, he came running up. At this point, I was hopping around trying to gather my wallet and keys and stuff. He swept me into his arms and carried me to the car, then drove me the six or so blocks to the nearest hospital.

The ER parking lot was full, as was the parking garage. The paper towels were rubber-banded around my foot, and I had it held as high as I could. “Don’t get blood on the dashboard,” he cautioned. I glared at him. Pssh, I wasn’t about to bleed on the dash.

We found parking two blocks from the ER entrance – in hindsight, he could have pulled into the ambulance driveway or something, but you know what they say about hindsight – and then he swept me back into his arms and hauled me the two blocks to the ER. The police/security guy guarding the desk saw us coming and brought out a wheelchair for me.

“We’ve got another one!” the front desk guy yelled. (Another ER visitor or another bread knife accident victim, I will never know.)

They wheeled me to the back, Shelby and boyfriend sat with me. Boyfriend cracked jokes. I stared at my foot, feeling silly. “You did this to avoid cooking French toast, didn’t you?” he asked. I was not amused, mostly because I had been so set on creating a fantastic breakfast based on a top-rated internet recipe. (Ha, those. The refuge of desperate beginner cooks like myself.)

He held my hand when they numbed it. I cried. I’m pretty tough, but I cried. And then laughed because I was so embarrassed about crying. He later told me he hadn’t expected me to have such a strong grip. I told him he was lucky he still had a hand.

I was concerned about tendon problems, as I couldn’t bend my toes. I wiggled them for the doctor and was rewarded with pain I can’t even explain. Luckily, there was no tendon damage. We could see them! That was pretty cool.

Three stitches later, I was all set to go home. Boyfriend went and got the car, then lifted me into the seat. When we got home, he threw me over his shoulder like a caveman (much to his amusement) and brought me back inside.

I finished the French toast. It wasn’t half bad. Needed powdered sugar.

Four days later, I’m still in pain. The wound is healing nicely, but I still can’t bend my foot or lift my big toe (“the front toe” as I kept trying to explain to the doctor — what the hell is a front toe? And why was I so set on calling it that?). Walking is painful. Moving is painful. I’ve been removed from any work involving standing until at least Friday, so that’s good.

But I’m on the mend and feeling silly. My brother stabbed himself accidentally in November, so it’s now a big joke that we’re not allowed to have any knives in the house. Boyfriend teased that we’ll have to check them out from him now, and that they’ll only be able to be used with direct supervision. My mom suggested plastic cutlery.

Moral of the story: shoes in the kitchen from now on!

 

 

On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Love, Simply

The funny thing about relationships is that they’re never what you think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing.

Relationships are a terrifying prospect. Relationships are, for me, a finely tuned machine, something that only works when so many tiny moving parts click into perfect place. Relationships are the result of effort, careful attention to detail, and compromise.

The beginning stages of a relationship can resemble a series of interviews. You are on your best behavior. You are spontaneous, energetic, upbeat, interesting. You are a carefully packaged product, marketed just so. You find someone whose company you enjoy, and you begin a relationship. There are dates, milestones, so many adorable firsts.

Eventually, after months of careful consideration for the other person, you get comfortable. I don’t really do comfortable. For me, being comfortable is a sign that something really bad is about to happen. Comfortable isn’t a state for the long haul; it’s a transient time from which you’ll someday cull happy memories.

But comfortable is a very real state, and eventually, it must be acknowledged and accepted, because sometimes, comfortable is the very best state, with far more potential for permanence than other sorts of emotions.

Letting someone see your weird is another part of this alignment of relationship longevity. You get past the initial interview process, the fun stuff, the activities, the really “deep” conversations about things, and you’re left with the day-to-day stuff. Day-to-day stuff is far deeper than any sort of philosophical debate.

That’s where everything you think you know about your relationship changes. Somewhere in the comfort zone, when you’ve let down your guard, you stop and realize that you’re in it for real, that this is real. You’ve stopped analyzing every text message for clues about love or chances at a fifth date. You’ve stopped panicking over which outfit to wear out (because you don’t have to wear anything but pajamas to stay at home!). You’ve started somehow syncing up your lives, your routines, your meals.

Eventually, it’s “we” and “us” and errands. (Those aren’t the worst things, after all, despite what we’ve heard. Errands are my favorite part of a relationship. If you can run errands with someone, you can be with someone. It’s that simple.) That mindset is a gradual progression, whereas the actions tend to move as swiftly as they please. (Or is it the other way around?) The feelings of “I love you” come long before they are spoken out loud, hesitantly, anxiously.

The best relationship advice I ever got was from a friend of mine who’s been with his girlfriend for three or so years (which, to me, seems like for-ev-er). He said, “You have to wake up every single day and decide to love that person.” It’s an active, ongoing decision. I love that. An active decision to love someone is so much more than that fairy tale happiness we’ve heard so much about (but very rarely see).

When I told boyfriend this yesterday, he scoffed and told me that he hardly wakes up every day and thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll love Katie today, but I’m only doing this for Acorn.” I laughed, then tried to explain to him that how I love him is constant, present always, just a soft hum of normalcy coupled with that deep-seated sense of need for proximity. “It’s just there,” I said. He knows what I meant.

What it is that draws you to someone isn’t what makes you stay with them, but sometimes the pull is unavoidable and the attraction undeniable. That’s when you finally have to accept that there’s something more there, that the questions and the expectations of how you thought you’d fall in love must be thrown to the wind (a pinch of caution should go, too, even though that’s terrible advice). It’s a weird journey. Sometimes it happens overnight but sometimes it takes forever to fall into place.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this internal fear about relationships ending. Maybe everyone does. Maybe that’s a universal fear. Maybe every relationship will end. Columnist Dan Savage once said something about how you date people, you break up with people, you repeat the cycle over and over, until finally, you start dating someone and you never break up. That’s slightly comforting.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been evaluating my relationship, removing myself from the bubble of “us” for assessment (something I’ve also tried to quit doing so much). We’re seven months in (this time), and other than the occasional little bump, we’re doing quite well. When we started dating again this summer, I was determined not to engage in the panic that goes with new relationships (or the resumption of an existing relationship). But I did, a little. The over-analyzing, the careful consideration.

But here we are, months later. I am comfortable now. It caught me off-guard. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know what I was imagining when I started, and perhaps not having any sort of idealistic outcome in mind is the best thing. It’s not all magical, twinkling lights and rose petals and candles, but it’s real. I like that. This is the real. I like it.

I have loved him for a very long time. I realized it this spring. During our first fight, almost six months into dating, I spat out, “I almost told you I loved you last night.” I had been holding onto it for so long, I knew it was only a matter of time before it came rushing out.

When he finally told me, he said, “I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you, but now I realize there was no more perfect time than when we were in the oak bottom with the leaves falling around us. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And I knew he meant it. Now, every time he tells me he loves me, I imagine the day we spent the morning on a hill in the forest in Mississippi, not hunting, but just watching the leaves fall down around us. It was magical.

Life is that weird journey where you have to let go sometimes and hope for the best, or at the very least, a great adventure. Love is, for me, the very best adventure.